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BOOK FIRST: Paris Atomised
The chapter starts with a description of the street children of Paris, most of whom are orphans. The orphan has a life and a subculture of his own, complete with a unique form of street slang and a unique means of survival by via collecting and trading scraps of copper. The narrator discusses the tragedy of the homeless, truant and abandoned children, calling them the “most disastrous of social systems.” Paris, he claims is different.
The truant boy in Paris, in spite of mean appearances, manages to retain his “innocence” even while developing a street-wise intelligence. He is the child of the gutter who clings to hope and ideals, a child who finds amusement in his very misfortune. This child-called a “gamin” is the very soul of Paris.
Little Gavroche is one of these gutter children. He is one of three children of a family who call themselves the “Jondrettes,” but are actually the Thenardiers. The parents wanted his two older sisters, but have no love for him. They live in one end of the Gorbeau House. The person who occupies an adjoining apartment is Monsieur Marius.
The narrator digresses for considerable time to discuss Paris in light of the homeless children. He sees them as a tragedy but does not blame anyone for their existence. Some of the “gamin,” as these street children are called, are not actually orphans but are simply unwanted for one reason or another. Such is the case of Little Gavroche. Yet, such children found ways to survive. In the case of Gavroche, he was actually happier in the streets than in the abusive home of the Thenardiers. He finds his own brand of friends and develops creative means of survival.